February 12, 2012

2012 San Diego Supercross: It's Not About The Bike

The San Diego monster whoops bit Eli Tomac hard, putting him out of the 250 main while running third.  Hope he's okay.  Photo by GuyB/Vital MX
American motocross fans are the strangest breed.  They seem to love to hate even more than they love to love, if that makes any sense at all, and honestly it shouldn't.  Ryan Villopoto won his second race in a row, but was almost beaten by Chad Reed, and Ryan Dungey got back on the podium with a well-deserved third place... yet the moto-internet is all abuzz about James Stewart's crash-caused 15th place finish.

The James-haters are saying it's just his nature, he's a crashing machine, and he should probably retire before he hurts himself or others.  This despite the fact that the San Diego whoops caught some other top riders, such as former points leader for the West 250 class, Eli Tomac, and perennial crowd favorite and normally smooth operator Kevin Windham.  Both went down in the same whoops that claimed Stewart, yet no one seems to bring that up.  No matter, these haters want to claim that Stewart's lack of outdoor motocross seat time has somehow affected his ability to focus on supercross, an absurd argument on the face of it.

The Yamaha/Pirelli/JGR-haters are saying it's the bike, the tires, and/or the team to blame, and some of them are preparing a "greatest hits" reel of James spinning out or washing out or otherwise crashing on the blue meanie.  Yet these folks turn a blind eye to the fact that despite being "handicapped" by the "horrible" equipment, Stewart has managed to win 4 our of 6 heat races and usually sets the first or second fastest qualifying lap of the night.  Is it not the same bike/tires/team all night long?

The way I see it, it's not about the bike at all.   Motocross bikes do not crash themselves.  If you put a bike on a stand, barring an earthquake or some other force of nature, it will sit there until you move it.   Crashes are 99% rider error.  Yes, James has had some equipment-caused crashes, no doubt about that... but not that we've seen so far this year.  In San Diego, it is entirely possible that he would have finished much higher than 15th had he not gotten his pants tangled up in his bike and lost half a lap on the field... although there is still an unanswered question about why he wasn't able to mount a Villopoto-like charge and at least crack the top ten.

But all of the other crashes this year, and most from years before, were either caused by James or someone riding near him.  Sometimes it's just bad luck, sometimes it's just bad riding at the wrong moment.  Yet I'm not willing to label the man a crashing machine.  I recognize that riding as fast as he does means riding on the ragged edge.  That's what makes him so exciting to watch:  he appears to be fearless.  I hope that never changes.

I am also not willing to pin the blame on the machine.  It is the responsibility of the rider to optimize his racebike for the conditions, and if there is any place that I might dole out some blame, that would be it.  However, I also recognize that this is a first-year situation for both JGR and James, and I am willing to give them time to blend together as a team to figure this all out.  Clearly, not all motocross "fans" are as generous.

So to all those "concern trolls" who are worried that the James Stewart of 2012 is no longer capable of winning races, I say "patience, fools."  And I expect them not to listen one bit.

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